the name: This post comes to us from Katie Johnson Slivovsky, not Sikorsky. Katie has written pieces for Newsweek, Illinois Steward, and Chicago Parent. She works at the Chicago Children’s Museum and lives with her husband and two teens in Western Springs, Illinois. – L
I’m a Helipad Parent, by Katie Johnson Slivosky
If the term “helicopter parent” describes people who hover over their children’s lives, what kind of parent am I? I don’t have the skills, attention span, or desire to hover but I’m not a detached, lazy or disinterested parent. Then it occurred to me: I may be a crappy helicopter, but I make a decent helipad. I empower my kids to take charge of their daily lives and I provide a safe place to land—a helipad—in times of trouble.
I’ll admit it: I have never checked my children’s homework. Ever. My sister teaches school and early on, she advised, “It’s your job to create the time and space for homework; it’s the child’s job to do it.” My kids just show me their grades at dinner and we talk about what’s working and what’s not. I believe my children deserve the credit—and the blame—for their grades, not me. This goes for most of the choices they make each day. This may sound “hands-off”, but I’m very intentional about my parenting.
I try hard to support and encourage my kids without leading them. That’s because 1) they know much more about being a teenager in 2015 than I do and 2) a lot of my parenting efforts from the get-go were geared toward providing my kids with the healthiest teen years possible. I knew the time would come when they would drive, say yes or no to drugs, etc., and I would be nowhere in sight. I wanted them to feel empowered to make good choices but more than anything, return to me for safe landing when bad things happened.
Mistakes Were Made
I have made mistakes. Some doozies. One of the biggest was completely missing the signs that my then 12-year-old daughter had developed Type 1 diabetes. She was losing weight and drinking ridiculous amounts of water—for weeks. Another parent might have Googled these symptoms; I just told her to eat more ice cream and carry a water bottle. Aaarrgh.
I regret my slow response but I don’t beat myself up over it. Perhaps this is another quality of helipad parents: we’re not shocked when we screw up nor are we paralyzed by our mistakes. I expected to make a few big blunders along the way—and I expect my children will, too.
I don’t believe one parenting approach is better or worse than another. They both have good and bad qualities. But there’s something to be said for the calm, slow-to-respond helipad: at the moment my daughter was diagnosed in the doctor’s office, I was able to remain steady and supportive. My husband—bless him—fainted on the spot. For whatever reason, I’m just not easily shocked and there’s safety in that. When my kids talk to me about problems, they know I’ll listen, absorb and take my time before reacting.
We might be able to tweak our tendencies to determine when it’s best to zoom in like a helicopter or back off like a helipad. But at the end of the day, we are who we are and—as long as we’re trying—it’s a waste of precious parental energy to feel guilty about our flaws. Let’s embrace the parenting style that comes naturally to us because that’s when we’re the most authentic.